Laguna Beach mulls $23 million deal to close South Laguna school
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange is asking for $23 million to sell the 6.5-acre St. Catherine of Siena School property in Laguna Beach, according to a staff report.
St. Catherine, a Catholic K-8 transitional elementary school, closed in June 2020 after county health orders moved classes for all schools online.
“The school-age population in the area has been in decline for many years, and this was a major factor in the decision to close the school and put the property up for sale,” the diocese spokesperson said. Jarryd Gonzales in a statement Friday.
The school opened in 1957 and was renovated in 2008. The Diocese of Orange considered all options for disposing of the school, but decided to go ahead with Laguna Beach, planning uses communities on the ground,” said Gonzales,
“The property provides the City with a unique opportunity to increase services for the community. In particular, given the excellent condition of the buildings on the property, many services could go live almost immediately, should City Council decide to go ahead with the acquisition,” wrote analyst Jeremy Frimond. senior management, in a staff report.
The report identifies possible uses as a public swimming pool, new civic center, cultural arts center and/or parking structure. The property is in the California Department of Forestry and Protection’s Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone.
The Laguna Beach Unified School District submitted a letter to the city stating its interest in partnering with the city to help with the costs.
“Specifically, the district would like to partner with the city to acquire the property for use in district educational programs and services,” Supt. Jason Viloria wrote.
Among the identified educational uses is a possible site for an expanded transitional kindergarten program. South Laguna has been without a school since the district closed the Aliso School in 1981.
An Irvine-based nonprofit had publicly considered creating a conservatory at the closed South Laguna School to supplement Laguna Beach students’ need for additional performing arts classes. This proposal was never launched.
A preliminary review of the city budget and investment portfolio showed city employees that Laguna Beach has the financial resources to fund the transaction. One option is to borrow excess funds from the City’s vehicle replacement and insurance fund. The funds would be repaid with interest over a period of 10 to 15 years. City staff also considered issuing revenue bonds or seeking public or commercial loans.
It would be the latest in a string of property deals sought by city officials over the past year. In May, Laguna Beach and the Laguna Presbyterian Church signed an interim agreement that could add 92 public parking spaces through a ground lease for a $10 million parking structure.
Last year, the city council voted to acquire two properties in South Laguna for future public use. The $2.7 million deal was for Ti Amo’s vacant restaurant and parking lot at 31727 and 31735 S. Coast Hwy. Firefighters have studied building a new fire station on the site, but the plan faces opposition from the South Laguna Civic Association.
This story is in development and will be updated as needed.
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